Allens Cay Exumas to Marsh Harbour Abaco, Bahamas 6/19-6/20/10
We left you luxuriating in our good fortune and marvelous diving for several
days in Allens Cay. All of our conversations with Chris Parker over the
prior week had pointed to a Saturday departure. Before that time, there
wasn't enough wind. After that time, while wind would be stronger (but still
very do-able), the seas, which promised to be relatively benign, would be
building, and, of somewhat more concern, squalls were forecast.
Actually, squalls, if moderate, are welcomed on a blue-water passage, as it
washes the deck of the inevitably accumulating salt. However, there would
be some tight spots, and high winds without the ability, if needed, to run
off (go downwind to ease the pressure on the sails), would make sailing
potentially more busy than we like.
So, off we went on Saturday morning. This time I remembered to turn on the
SPOT transmitter, and, while this is coming a few days late, the track will
still be visible on tinyurl.com/flyingpigspot if you'd like to look at it.
Hitting the "hybrid" button will give you a combined satellite and map view
of the route, showing you the areas we had to skirt around or wander
through. Double-clicking will zoom to the point where the "hand" is, and you
can left-click-and-hold with the hand to move the map around as well.
We did dead reckoning, based on the expected winds and resulting boat speed,
to put us at the Fleeming Channel at early evening/late afternoon. That
would allow us enough sunlight to see any hazards, chiefly coral
outcroppings, frequent occurrences in our trip over the banks, as well as
through the channel. The anticipated time, based on the forecasted winds,
to the Marsh Harbour north Man-O-War inlet after our before-dark passage
through the channel, would allow us to be there after dawn, making for a
comfortable entry. Leaving too early, while it would have allowed more
light through the channel out of the banks, had the potential for our
too-early arrival at our entry, requiring a heaving-to until daylight.
Accordingly, we sailed off our anchor at 11:15AM, heading out on 298*T, in
order to clear some shallows. The winds were light, so with our apparent
wind of only 3-5 knots, due to our apparent wind direction of 160-170* over
the port side, we were making a 3 knot SOG, nearly dead downwind. As we
would tack into a beam reach shortly, we didn't bother to put up the pole to
keep the genoa out fully, and, as a result, it flapped a bit in the shadow
of the main.
Before we left, we saw three other boats leaving the Allens Cay channel (we
were anchored outside, on the west side, recall) before us, apparently bound
for Nassau. Two of them flew spinnakers, a wonderful sight, but one in
particular caught our eye. Our aysmmetrical spinnaker is a marvelous tool,
but, since its tack attaches via a strap around our furled genoa, it amounts
to a very big genoa in closer winds which, we're thrilled to say, we can use
all the way up to 45* apparent wind in light airs. Unfortunately, dead
downwind, it's not as useful, sharing the same problems as the genoa in not
wanting to stay full.
However, the one which attracted our interest was flying an asym as well.
They were flying it as a regular spinnaker would have been, albeit without a
pole. They'd given it, effectively, two tacks (tack being the normal point
front bottom attachment point) or two clews (the sheet attachment point to
control how tightly the sail is pulled back), depending on how you looked at
it, controlling the relative angle of the sail by controlling the length of
the line to what would normally be the tack.
Thus, their aysm flew like a spinnaker, other than that the normal clew was
much higher than a true spinnaker's would have been. Also, not being
dependent on the strap, which height adjustment limitation is, in our case,
how far I can reach to push it up, it flew much higher, ballooning out front
like a regular spinnaker would have done. We'll have to try that sometime
when we're in a nearly dead-downwind position!
Because there was a relatively small set of shallows to avoid, our tack onto
what would be our basic direction for all of our travels arrived quickly.
We tacked into 008*T at 11:35, set the genoa for proper drawing (making sure
the telltails streamed on both sides of the sail) and hoisted the staysail,
adjusting it in the same fashion. Because we'd actually waited a bit (I
forget what we were doing that made us want to not bother right at that
time), and looked closely at our expected track, we actually adjusted our
COG to 001*T as we trimmed.
Once that course adjustment was accomplished, and Ray (for Raymarine, our
chartplotter) had convinced Otto (our autopilot) that it was ok to come
downwind a bit from the original, we trimmed the main, and soon, all sails
were drawing beautifully in the light airs. The winds were forecasted to
build throughout our trip, but at this point, there was only 7-9 knots of
wind at a close reach of 60* apparent, yielding 3.5-4.1 knots SOG.
By 12:05, the wind had clocked slightly, allowing our apparent wind to go to
the more favorable beam reach of 90* apparent, still at 7-9 knots, which
gave us a slight lift of 3.9-4.5 knots SOG - much lower wind, and much
slower progress than we'd expected. Still, my dead reckoning had figured on
4 knots minimum and 5 likely, with a possible 6. Since winds were forecast
for 10-12, building slightly not only as the day moved on, but as we moved
north, but still, not more than 15, the lower numbers were the more likely.
Anyway, we'd watch the clock as the critical hour of 6PM for the cut
arrived, and do dead reckoning to determine whether we'd have to run the
engine and motorsail briefly to make the channel before dark.
At 1, we were hit with a small shower, very welcomed both for the heat
relief and the deck-wash we received. It wasn't really a squall, but we did
see the wind clocking to 60* and increasing for that brief period, to - hold
on to your hats! - 15 knots. That allowed us, without trimming the sails
(which were too loose for the angle of attack, having been on a beam reach
before), to pick up to 5+ knots, albeit briefly.
The wind and rain went away again after only 5 minutes, so by 1:10 we were
back on the same old-same old as we had been. Fortunately, that, too, was
short-lived, as another "squall" hit at 1:45, driving the wind speed up to
only 10-12 knots, but, at the same time, it backed slightly, putting us at a
70* apparent wind which, curiously, got us up to 4.8-5.5 knots. Flying Pig
seems most efficient at this angle, rather than a beam reach, or (very
possibly!) I'm not trimming or shaping the sails well enough to take
advantage of the usual best-point-of-sail of the beam reach. In any event,
it was very comfortable, if not very fast sailing, and a beautiful day, to
As promised, the wind very gradually increased, so that by 2:30, we were
seeing 10-12 knots apparent consistently. Still arriving over our starboard
bow at 70-80* we were now managing 5.4-5.8 knots and making 352*T COG,
direct to the channel's doglegs we'd have to accomplish. Dead reckoning had
us through the cut comfortably by this time, which pleased me greatly, as I
dearly dislike turning on the engine :**))
We had a very nice surprise at 3:40 as our starboard pole suddenly bent, and
the line started streaming out of the reel. A quick adjustment to the drag
put a stop to that, and I started reeling. The fish had taken a lot of line
by this time, so he was well behind the boat, giving him lots of opportunity
for movement, including many dramatic jumps. Fortunately, the hook stayed
with him, and in due course we'd boated the great fighter, a keeper
barracuda. (We keep any barracuda under 30")
By the time we'd gotten the gaff into his lower jaw (the secure place which
wouldn't tear, possibly), we were getting close to the time when we'd be in
the twisty-turnies (well, not so bad, but helpful to have me watching for
coral while Lydia drove) of the channel, so I did as we always do for times
when I can't immediately fillet a fish, putting the handle of the gaff under
the port side support for the swim platform, and feeding it to the other
side, where one of our "cat rescue system" lines was tied, putting the end
under that line, which would keep it safe from movement. Thus Barry hung
from the other side of the platform, awaiting my ministrations while I
watced for coral heads :**))
By 4:30, the wind was again up a bit, now 12-15 knots, still at 70-80*
apparent, and our speed jumped to 6.8-7.2 knots. We presume that was
tide-aided as we got closer to the channel, but it resolved completely
whether we'd have to start the engine. My dead reckoning put us there
between 5:30 and 6PM, which was exactly our target when we left that
Just as we were entering the twists, our port side pole did the bend and
stretch. While I got to it more quickly, there was still a lot of line out
before I got him stopped. This retrieve got interesting, too, as the line
at one point was under the dinghy, and I'd already had to retrieve a line
which had become involved in the neutral-position's turning prop during our
move to Allen's Cay, something I didn't relish with some biggie on the end
of it, under way.
This one eventually, however, without incident, turned out to be a 4' or
better barracuda, which we released successfully at 5:10PM, just before we
had to pay closer attention in the channel, which we entered right at 5:15,
an improvement on our dead reckoning time due to the tidal lift.
That same tidal lift made going through the channel a non-event, as well. We
were rewarded with another brief shower, accompanied by rainbows on the way
through, and by 5:45 we'd left and set our course for our eventual Marsh
Harbour turn-in point.
Accordingly, we set our course to 000*T and retrimmed our sails, putting us
at an apparent wind of 60* again, this time at 11-14 knots, which yielded
6.4 knots. Our dead reckoning would, if this persisted, have us at our
entrance turn shortly after dawn. Once settled in, I put on my harness and
went out back, cleaning up Barry at 6:15. He yielded two very nice large
filets, enough for 4 dinners for us. Thank you, Lord, for the bounty which
comes from your sea!!
Of course, everything in sailing and cruising is subject to change, and by
7PM, the wind had shifted slightly to 70-80* apparent, at 12-14 knots,
"speeding" us along at 5.9-6.1 knots, as we lost our tidal lift.
7:30 saw another few sprinkles - frustratingly, not enough to really wash
the decks, but if this continued all night (frequent showers), we'd still
arrive with clean hardware, a blessing. However, we were also seeing 15-16
knots, and the seas were building, from a benign 2-3' to a still-manageable
3-4' - still on our beam.
Because the wind had been increasing, and, as a general practice, since it's
more difficult to do so in the dark, at 8PM we turned on the engine long
enough to point into the wind, making it easier to put a reef in the main
and take down the staysail, letting the genoa out to about 100% (the clew at
the mast). We easily would handle 15 knots on our beam with all the canvas
out, but as it had been inching up, touching 16 on one occasion, and the
forecast had been for increasing winds, we decided to play it safe. That
accomplished, Lydia went down for her sleep as I continued the watch, having
had a brief nap in the afternoon.
Wouldn'cha know, right after that, the wind died to 11-13, but, with the
open ocean's fetch, the seas continued to build ever so slightly. In our
reefed position (our main has three very deep reefs, the third approximating
a storm trysail's area), we didn't have as much roll resistance, so, with
beam seas, we were rolling a bit. Not uncomfortably so, but we came back
over vertical on most of the waves. Despite all that movement, since we
weren't having to punch through the waves, we maintained a 5.0 knot SOG...
10:30PM saw a wind shift, moving the apparent wind back to ~75*, and our
9-12 knot apparent wind allowed us only 4.1-4.5 knots, having lost any tidal
advantage out in the open ocean. Hm. We'll not be arriving at dawn, at this
rate. No worries, though - it was exactly this sort of situation which
drove my decision on our departure time. If we arrived later than that, we
had an entire day's window to work with. And, it's a beautiful sail, with
the waxing moon brilliantly lighting the sea. What's to complain about? :**))
12:30AM saw the wind dropping and clocking a bit, coming around to an
apparent 80-90* - a beam reach, with the apparent wind only 8-10 knots.
Easing the sails just a bit to keep the airflow smooth increased our
steadily decreasing speed to the blazing 3.8-4.4 knots SOG. This lighter
pressure on the sails, and the still-building seas created lots more roll,
now, as the waves passed under us, pushing us on the way in, and dropping
the bottom out on the way past. We were rolling from 20*+ to 10*-, still
manageable, but not very efficient drive from the sails!
By 2:30, I was praying for a squall - anything to put more wind in our
sails, speed us up, but significantly, stiffen the boat. It wasn't a problem
for me, but it made sleeping challenging, I'm sure, for Lydia. Ever hopeful,
when I saw lots of lightning off to the west, I turned on the radar and went
looking for rain. No such luck, anywhere. The only rain visible was a very
small patch at 205*, but it was not only receding in the distance, it was
dying, as well. The offset to that was the brilliantly lit skies, with the
Milky Way painting its path in the same general direction as we were
traveling. Right when I was looking up to see the overhead cloud conditions,
at 2:45 I saw a brilliant meteor cross the Milky Way. I can't adequately
express how blessed and honored I felt to be out here, witnessing the beauty
of the open ocean... The winds were still 70-80*, 8-11 knots apparent, and
we continued to poke along at a comfortable 3.8-4.4 knots.
I wasn't tired enough to need it, but I got Lydia up at 3:30 so I'd have a
sleep before we had to deal with the entrance. However, our original dead
reckoning was now out the window - at this rate, we'd be fortunate to be in
the area by noon. Unfortunately for me, I'd made a pot of coffee before
then, as I'd felt sleepy just before my exercise with the squalls and Milky
Way, and, as is our practice, had made another for her so she'd have that
when she started her watch. I had another cup while I briefed her before
going down - which made it difficult to sleep. Instead, I dozed, and,
eventually, rejoined her on deck at 6:30AM and got my briefing.
Now that daylight came creeping, and the winds clearly weren't going to be
an issue, we luffed upwind and released the mainsheet enough to allow it to
sag far enough that I could shake out the reef. Once that was fully raised,
we fell off again to our cruising attitude, sheeted in the main to stiffen
the boat, and I untied the staysail to allow us to raise it as well. The
final step was to roll out the remainder of the genoa, and trim all the
sails again. Back on our 000*T, we were trimmed back up by 8AM in another
With the wind backing once again, we found ourselves in the familiar
position of a slightly close reach of 75* of 8-12 knots apparent wind. This
not only stiffened the boat (all the sails up) but added a bit of speed,
allowing us 4.9-5.3 knots. Because the seas were still increasing slightly,
and, worse, were shortening, the previous being more like swells, but these
being also wind driven chop, we still had roll in the occasional 6' combined
sets, but not nearly as bad as it would have been under reefed conditions.
As this was the time we'd expected to be making our turn into the North
Man-O-War cut in our original dead reckoning, I was relieved to see at least
a LITTLE increase in speed. I was starting to get concerned that we'd not
make the cut before dark!
My concerns continued, as by 10:30, the wind continued to drop, now showing
only 8-10 at 80* apparent, and our speed correspondingly dropped to only
3.8-4.2 knots. We turned slightly upwind to 311*T at 11:30, allowing us a
very comfortable clearance to the shoals off the bottom of the islands
outside of Great Abaco, but more because the wind had clocked significantly,
coming over our sails at 120-150* as we rolled in the now 4-6' seas with the
accompanying slightly higher swells-aided rollers. Turning upwind stiffened
the boat as the apparent wind moved slightly forward, but we were still able
to maintain our 3.8-4.0 speeds. We made the decision to go further north
than originally plotted, in order to make a straight, one-direction-shift
run into the cut into Marsh Harbour, so our time on that tack would be a bit
longer. However, we'd still be there in plenty of time, so sloth won out
over achieving an earlier arrival :**))
Sure enough, at 1:30, we tacked into 194*T through the cut in 8-10 knots
apparent wind, and by 2:30, we'd turned "upwind" to our final course to the
marker buoy in Marsh Habour, putting the 11-14 knot winds at 80* on our
sails. That wind would hold all the way to the buoy - where was this when we
needed it? It's like it got turned on the moment we were inside, contrary
to expectation, as the land shadow should have created a drop in wind. The
difference here was that the land shadow did away with the fetch and
rollers, and our smooth-ride speed leapt to 5.3-6.2 knots. And, in fact, it
continued to build slightly, showing a consistent 14-15 knots all the way
What a great day for a sail! There were three boats heading out of the
harbor as we approached, all running wing-and-wing, with one hailing us as
they went by, welcoming us back. It's amazing to us how small the cruising
world is, as we continually run into (well, encounter - no collisions yet!)
boats we've seen elsewhere, renewing our acquaintances as we go. Other
boats and cruisers report the same thing, all over the world.
Ending a benign trip, we made the turn into the harbor at 2:45 after we
dropped our sails, and were snugly ensconced in our favored spot in about
10' of water by 3PM. Despite its being much longer than we'd originally DR'd
(dead reckoned), it was a beautiful passage, only about 27 hours, and, the
rolling excepted, it was pretty hard to find anything to fault about the
We'd find that the wind stayed at this level all the way through the next
morning, and laughed about, how, had we waited another day, we'd have just
been arriving. However, the seas would have been bigger, so, all-in-all, we
were glad we left when we did. As I'd had all of a couple hours of sleep,
once we were tucked in and everything stowed, I headed down for a nap. All
is well with the world!
As usual, this is plenty long enough, so I'll leave you here. We're going
ashore for children, grandchildren, and parent fixes, so we'll not be back
with another for at least a month, in case there are those of you who, in
the past, have wondered if we'd sunk, or something :**))
Until next time, Stay Tuned!
Skip and Crew
Morgan 461 #2
SV Flying Pig KI4MPC
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"You are never given a wish without also being given the power to
make it come true. You may have to work for it however."
"There is no such thing as a problem without a gift for you in
its hand. You seek problems because you need their gifts."
(Richard Bach, in Illusions - The Reluctant Messiah)